In 2018, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® apologized publicly—in a statement developed in collaboration with the National Association of REALTORS®—for past discriminatory practices that fueled the city’s segregation. Those practices included an association policy banning African Americans from membership until 1963. Acknowledging the trauma and pain of many members who, in recent history, would have been barred from joining was the first step on “a journey to empathy,” says CEO Michelle Mills Clement, RCE, CAE.
Then, in the summer of 2020, as the murder of George Floyd and other terrible events sparked reflection on racial and social justice, the Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS® in Washing-ton, D.C., realized that, while it had long been actively promoting levels of diversity in its board and committee memberships, it could do more. “We’re not going to change all this overnight,” says GCAAR CEO Edward Krauze, “but one local association at a time, maybe we’ll start bending the curve a little bit.”
In this environment, REALTOR® associations across the U.S. delved into new ways to further develop diversity, equity and inclusion. Now, DEI is a permanent strategic priority, placing associations on the pathway to remedying past wrongs, building and conveying an inclusive culture and ushering more Americans toward homeownership.
A Stronger Foundation
The summer of 2020 hit the world with “things that shook us to our core,” agrees Jessica Coates, RCE, then-CEO of Howard County Association of REALTORS®, Maryland.
HCAR issued a statement in support of racial justice efforts, which led to conversations about being part of the solution. Leadership incorporated a DEI module into the association’s three-year strategic plan, reached out to multicultural groups and created Spanish-language education for first-time home buyers.
The board also voted unanimously to establish a DEI committee—an essential first step for many associations—which attracted an outpouring of interest from potential members. The committee is meant to support DEI within the association and the communities it serves by promoting equal opportunity and cultural diversity in member engagement and leadership recruitment.
Likewise, in 2020 CAR re-envisioned and relaunched its diversity committee, naming it The 77 to highlight its representation of every one of Chicago’s neighborhoods. A major project was its recent audit of CAR’s fair housing course. Working with the National Fair Housing Alliance, CAR revamped the course to make it more Chicago-specific and raise awareness of the “coded” discriminatory practices that continue to infiltrate real estate transactions. The committee also conducts community outreach and raises funds for small-business grants to promote economic development.
At the state level, when Maryland REALTORS® placed its focus on recruiting diverse voices for leadership, the response was overwhelming. “We reached out,” says CEO Chuck Kasky, RCE. “We created a welcoming environment and a sincere desire to have all our members represented in everything we do.”
In fall 2019, Maryland REALTORS® convened a Presidential Advisory Group to address DEI. A concurrently running Bylaws Task Force accepted and success-fully presented to the board the PAG’s top two recommendations: the addition of two seats to the board of directors—including one on the executive committee—and creation of a standing DEI Advisory Group. Both were in force by Oct. 1, 2020.
The DEI Advisory Group, whose duties include recommending board appointments, has offered “a wealth of ideas,” says Kasky. Recently, the group considered recommending that elected officers, committee chairs and vice chairs be required to complete NAR’s Fair Housing Challenge—Fairhaven, At Home With Diversity and Bias Override. That recommendation is pending.
Maryland REALTORS® is also leveraging remote and hybrid meetings to increase geographic diversity, a conscious effort that retains the association’s meritocracy while extending opportunities for involvement to a broader cross-section of members, says Kasky. The advisory group produced a video, Your Voice Matters, featuring diverse Maryland REALTORS® leaders with the goal of increasing diversity within the association’s committee structure, especially among chairs and vice chairs. The results were “immediate and dramatic,” says Kasky. “Representatives of many groups were speaking to the camera, saying, ‘We want you; we are actively seeking your involvement,’ and it works,” he says. “We had more committee signups this year than last, which was more than the year before, and I suspect this engagement will continue to grow.”
"We’re not going to change all this overnight, but one local association at a time, maybe we’ll start bending the curve a little bit.”— Edward Krauze, RCE, CEO, Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS®
A Brighter Light on DEI
Associations are also working on recognizing members who embrace DEI, both to thank them for their support and to incentivize others to join them. For example, HCAR’s diversity committee is working on a presentation to its board of directors to create a recognition tentatively named Agents of Change. The recognition would combine national-level training with local impact: It would be awarded to members who complete the Fair Housing Challenge and NAR’s C2EX program and who demonstrate a passion for DEI by volunteering with HCAR or in the community.
REALTORS® with the Agent of Change recognition would be seen by consumers and peers as professionals who make DEI a priority and are committed to learning how to be inclusive and fair, says Coates, who recently became CEO of the Sacramento Association of REALTORS® in California. The recognition’s significance extends beyond fair housing, which is en-shrined in law, by revealing a REALTOR® who is “going the extra mile,” Coates says. “This is something we all need to embrace, beyond being human and doing the right thing in our profession. This is where the profession is going—understanding different cultures, being more inclusive and welcoming and basically banning bad behavior that has plagued the country for years in housing.”
As part of its multipronged DEI approach, GCAAR’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee created the GCAAR Diversity & Inclusion Champions, awarded to members who finish the three programs of NAR’s Fair Housing Challenge. The Challenge is “a godsend,” says Krauze, as it provides tools for GCAAR and other associations to craft their efforts.
Beginning in 2023, all board members and applicants for committee seats must become GCAAR D&I Champions. Krauze is proud that the majority of GCAAR staff members have already demonstrated their commitment by taking the courses. Upcoming testimonial videos will showcase D&I champions and why they sought the credential.
GCAAR President Harrison Beacher also had the idea to piggyback on the association’s existing awards by adding the Pathways Awards, recognizing members who go above and beyond to help people find homes. The 25 inaugural recipients were recognized for efforts including partnering with investors to rent homes to voucher-eligible families and launching a podcast to educate the Hispanic community on the region’s new housing developments.
Back in Chicago, the association is furthering member engagement by elevating the visibility of traditionally underrepresented groups. Heritage and Pride month events serve as vocal celebrations of members’ identity. A strategic approach makes sure that all identities are recognized and gives the events a unified objective. “Our goal is to bring awareness to different communities, to tie it back to real estate and provide options in the community,” says Mills Clement.
Recent programs included a Pride Month panel reflecting on the professional journeys of gay and lesbian members and a Black His-tory Month event recognizing the appointment of CAR Past President Zeke Morris as the first African American president of the Illinois Association of REALTORS®. Members trekked through a snowstorm—heavy even by Chicago standards—to join that celebration.
Even associations that say their communities are not diverse should recognize heritage and Pride months, Mills Clement says. The efforts ensure that all consumers are recognized and could open doors to new members.
“A simple acknowledgement can go a long way,” Mills Clement says. “That person may join your association or get into real estate because they see themselves being represent-ed. Heritage and Pride months are there to celebrate a heritage and celebrate identity. By simply acknowledging them, you’re showing that you are aware of this, you’re a partner in this and people who celebrate these different identities are welcome.”
Advocating for Inclusion
In the mid-1990s, Brian Toohey, RCE, was considering buying lots in an older part of Columbia, Mo. Toohey, now the Columbia Board of REALTORS® CEO, was shocked to discover the properties were bound by restrictive covenants. He was even more shocked by the response he received when he questioned those covenants: “They’re still there, but they’re not enforceable, so they don’t matter anymore.”
“I had no idea those kinds of things could still be in there,” says Toohey. “That has always bothered me.”
But as of Aug. 28 this year, restrictive covenants are on their way out in the state. Missouri REALTORS® successfully advocated for a new law requiring that covenants barring buyers based on race, national origin or religion be stripped from any newly filed deed. Under the law, current property owners can also petition for removal of the outdated language.
In 1948, the Supreme Court struck down restrictive covenants, but discrimination in sales and rentals of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex wasn’t banned until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
As Missouri’s new law takes effect, CBOR has informed property management companies and reached out to the city of Columbia’s Office of Neighborhood Services, notified groups in older neighborhoods where restrictive covenants were common and communicated with the county recorder’s office to learn procedures. From there, it will develop step-by-step instructions for members, property buyers and property owners to make changes.
The REALTORS® won passage of the law, in part, with stories of real estate agents whose clients—especially those in protected classes—felt uneasy about buying properties burdened with discriminatory restrictions, says Toohey.
“This is a great opportunity for REALTORS®to be able to reach out and help people,” he says. “Hopefully, they feel more secure living in their property when those kinds of restrictions are no longer attached to the deed.”
The Work is Ongoing
As associations sustain their efforts, there’s still much work to be done.
“Our goal is to identify and cultivate policies and procedures that will increase HCAR’s commitment to DEI, as well as foster and maintain relationships with local chapters of multicultural real estate professional organizations,” says HCAR Market-ing & Communication Manager Mikesa Ponder. “For HCAR, promoting DEI is ongoing, extensive and in the forefront of everything that we do.”
For Maryland REALTORS®, in com-ing years, the focus will include teaching members how to provide real estate services to diverse client bases with different needs, such as LGBTQ+, Latino and other groups. “We’re proud to be a very forward-looking association,” says Kasky. “It wouldn’t have happened without the right people in place and the right attitude and the openness to it.”
Likewise, GCAAR plans to continue engaging members across its geography and from brokerages large and small to ensure that the association is mirroring its community. “Hopefully, it’s opened people’s eyes a little bit to the fact that this is not some big, scary thing,” says Krauze. “We were doing it already.”